Ellen Gilchrist once wrote about the “mysterious drawers of summer houses . . . secrets no real house would hoard or remember.” Somehow, this led to my theory about books in houses where people visit often, which may or may not be summer houses. I think they should be full of discoveries, even for the owners, that the shelves should be full of books waiting to be plucked like fruit. Idiosyncratic, united by nothing other than the fact that this one person (or two) happened to acquire them. My parents live in a beach town and their shelves are liked that, although I am still peeved they got rid of Kitty Kelley’s The Last Star, the biography of Elizabeth Taylor that I liked to re-read every summer.
On Saturday, I plucked Roy Blount Jr.’s “Long Time Leaving: Dispatches Up South” from my shelves and dove into several essays. But I think I liked “First, Tell Me What Kind of Reader You Are” the best. (It’s about what it’s like for writers to be asked what they do.)
“‘Oh,’ they say with a certain gracious almost-twinke in their eye, ‘what kind?’
“What am I supposed to say to that? ‘Living’? ‘Recovering?’ They’ll just respond, ‘Oh, should I have heard of some of your books?’ I know how to answer that question. And I’m damned if I’m going to stand there and start naming off the titles. That’s personal! Can you imagine Flannery O’Connor standing there munching brie on a Ry-Krisp and saying, ‘Well, there’s The Violent Bear it Away . . . ‘”
Actually I can imagine it.